Dr Owen Boyle : Business Responsibility for Human Rights

In 2011, the United Nations published the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which
outlined the State duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the need for access to effective remedy. All business enterprises therefore have to ‘respect’ human rights
throughout the course of their operations and help ensure access to effective remedy when negative
impacts take place. But what does it mean to respect human rights and how can a business provide an
effective remedy?


Dr Owen Boyle has been working on corporate social responsibility (CSR) for almost ten years. During this period, he completed his PhD at the Faculty of Law at the University of Copenhagen and wrote on the subject of business responsibility for human rights. Owen focused on how business enterprises can respect human rights through the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Following completion of his PhD, he worked as a consultant across Scandinavia and northern Europe. In this capacity, Owen has advised a number of large corporations on how to implement various aspects of the UNGPs across their organisations. He has written human rights policies for international organisations and worked on a project with the United Nations that aims to provide operational guidance for companies as to how they can create effective grievance mechanisms to help ensure access to remedy in a business and human rights context.”


As with so many events, Covid-19 curtailed last year’s calendar of NIBE evening seminars; indeed, staff and students have not attended a NIBE event at the Newcastle Business School since Paul Polman’s lecture on 12 February 2020!


With this in mind, it was a delight to receive notification from Prof Ron Beadle that a series of online seminars had been calendared for this academic year, the first of which featured Dr Owen Boyle, live from Copenhagen, and discussing business and human rights.


After a brief introduction to his work, delegates were allocated to discussion groups and asked to discuss:


  1. What it means for business to ‘respect’ human rights;
  2. Access to state based and non-state based remedies; and
  3. Best practice for human rights policies.


Year 12 student, Sean Hobson, made a tremendous contribution to our group, and posed the following question to Dr Boyle during the concluding Q&A.

Is there a case to suggest that transparency may result in fewer people coming forward due to blurred lines between confidentiality and transparency, and thus individuals are too afraid to come forward to challenge an issue?’